Has Normal Service Resumed? – Two Years on, or is it Three?
If we cast our minds back to the year 2020, yes that year, the number of in-person visits to public libraries plummeted in the UK by 159 million as branches across the country were forced to close.
Annual figures from the Charted Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (Cipfa) show that physical library visits fell from a huge 214.6 million to 59.7 million.
Normal library services saw strict health and safety restrictions implemented nationwide. These restrictions saw 65% of the libraries in the UK experience a reduction in physical library loaning, however, over 12 months the number of web visits increased by 18% to 154.7 million as visitors who were unable to borrow physical books from their local branch, turned to ebook borrowing instead.
But now, over three years since the COVID-19 pandemic began, D-Tech is asking, has normal service resumed? Are our libraries back to offering us the same services as they were before, or has the pandemic broadened libraries’ capabilities?
How have our libraries changed?
A Catalyst for Digitisation?
When libraries were forced to close it became apparent that the old-school process of loaning physical items wasn’t going to cut it for a country under restrictions of a nationwide lockdown. So, libraries quickly adapted to not only fit the contemporary demands of patrons but also future long-term demands by leaning heavily on their digital collections. Many libraries were quick to improve their digital capabilities and accessibility to provide the best possible support to modern library users who access resources remotely in a rapidly evolving digital environment.
This demand for increased digital services acted as a catalyst for bigger digital projects to come to light, most notably a collaboration between The British Library and The Arts Council which is currently in the development stages of ‘LibraryOn’, a single digital presence for libraries. Offering a single brand and website for our libraries in the UK, this project will include digital library materials, signposting to local services hosting a range of national apps and resources, and even linking to exclusive library collections around the world.
The project has been in the works since 2018, but the app encountered some digital transformation challenges which delayed software development. However, the past few years have thrown the project back into the spotlight as the recent demands for a wider online presence of libraries have proven demands for alternative ways to borrow library items are still a hot topic amongst consumers.
Embracing and Elevating Library Space
Even as so many library resources are now going digital, the physical library is still a unique institution offering escapism and inspiration to patrons in local communities. However, the pandemic has slightly tweaked how libraries are offering inspirational material. Whilst physical library material is still available on loan, the unique physical spaces in libraries are not only providing education but are sparking innovation and creativity in patrons.
Libraries are setting up podcast studios, installing 3D printers, and lending out mobile WiFi hotspots, tangible items and experiences that elevate not just the library offerings but expose patrons to technology and items that they may not be able to access elsewhere.
Glasgow Caledonian University is one step ahead and already offers students two complete state-of-the-art recording studios designed especially for recording spoken word podcasts. Both studios are located in the Sir Alex Ferguson library and have the necessary equipment for students to explore their creative side and embrace the studios as brand-new physical spaces, free of charge.
The Virtual World
Reading materials weren’t the only things that went digital during the pandemic, event providers in partnership with libraries used the digital space to deliver workshops, readings and even run events. Libraries offered everything from story time for children to virtual book clubs and exclusive talks from guest speakers.
Post-pandemic, this low-cost accessible option of hosting events has become the new normal amongst library networks. Public library branches all over the globe have now made virtual events a core part of their service offerings, one quick google search for ‘library online events’ and patrons are immediately met with an abundance of events from genre-specific book clubs to library street events specifically designed to bring communities together.
Even industry-leading organisation Libraries Connected and The British Library has an ever-growing list of webinars, workshops and exhibitions listed online, highlighting some of the innovative work being done within libraries to ensure they meet the needs of a contemporary audience.
So, What's Changed?
Apart from digitisation being a common trait in many libraries, it’s not just the services our libraries offer that has transformed. The relationship patrons have with their libraries has evolved in the same way our libraries’ digital capabilities have.
Three years on from the pandemic we are seeing a new, elevated kind of normal service in our libraries. Alongside the traditional physical lending of library books and other materials, libraries have expanded their offerings which has not only kept up with a rapidly changing digital landscape but has simultaneously attracted a larger pool of patrons to experience and benefit from our libraries and what they have to offer post-pandemic.
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As innovators of library technology for over 20 years, D-Tech International is always operating at the cutting-edge to develop the next generation of enhancements – speak to one of our experienced and friendly team to find out how new technologies could transform your patron experience.